Sourdough Starter

Recently I’ve been sharing my sourdough starter as fast as I can bulk it back up. Two women two weeks ago, two more last week, and some for Dean who made sourdough dinner rolls and said they were kind of ugly, but delicious!

Here’s what I gave to Dean…

Typically my starter lives in my fridge, where I feed it once a week or less, if I’m not baking with it. It gets tucked all the way to the back left side, and usually has apples in front of it, or tubs of salsa, or a jar of homemade plum jam.

When I’m in a sourdough frame of mind, then the starter gets moved to the counter, where it lives in the open air and I feed it once, even twice each day. It goes bad out in the warmth if you don’t pay attention, so I keep it where I’ll always see it, right by the drawer that holds the dinner napkins and the phone charger. For the last two months, my starter has been working overtime.

Fido. I know it’s silly to name a sourdough starter, but Fi-means faithful and Do-is a lousy but fun version of dough. Catchy? Ha. Our family’s lore says that we Garaicoetxea folk (Ga-ra-ee-ko-eh-chay-uh… that’s the way you write our very Basque surname) brought our levain–our sourdough starter–all the way to the new world in the 1890’s. Since we were bakers in the Basque country, and immediately opened a bakery in California, it’s probably all very true! Here are some photos from my last trip there.

Anyway, what’s the big interest suddenly in sourdough? Well, articles are popping up everywhere about fermented foods, and so I thought I’d share a few links so that you might know a little more about this sour magic.

On food sensitivities

One person’s story on going grain-free, then reverting back to eating grains and their health benefits

The science behind sourdough, and a bit about San Francisco’s claim to sour fame

So, if you live near me and are tempted to try your hand at baking some of your own sourdough-based recipes, send me a message and I’ll put you in the giveaway lineup. If not, just make your own. Here are some sourdough starter recipes from trusted baking websites:

The Fresh Loaf

King Arthur

Bon Appetit–with some nods to Richard Bertinet, one of my favorite bread book authors, and a recipe for sourdough bread to boot!

Just be careful if you are inspired, but don’t want to bake sourdough bread yourself. Many of the commercial varieties aren’t all that special. Instead of using the traditional method of allowing the bread to ferment and rise over a long period of time–thus gaining that sour flavor and the benefits of fermentation, many of the large commercial bakeries simply add vinegars or souring agents to a typical loaf of industrial, yeasted bread… The ingredient list will be long, and you won’t gain any of the health benefits. Real sourdough bread has these three ingredients: flour, water, and salt. 🙂


Sourdough toast with butter and homemade plum jam. Stew and sourdough. French toast from sourdough bread. Bread pudding made from stale loaves. Egg in a hole. Grilled panini on homemade sour. Sourdough pancakes and waffles! Hot sourdough baked in a pot, on an open flame.

Are you hungry yet?


in the palm of His hand

On this cool and foggy morning, I hear the birds beginning their day, and know so much beauty is already pouring my way. People will converge and we will sing, and laugh, and feast together. A scraggly group, all gathered around a table, being family to one another.

This year, like every year of these forty-some odd years, has been filled with blessings too many to list. We live in a place and a time of peace, and I am able to be a mother, and a wife, and a friend, and a daughter, and a writer without anyone threatening who I am or where I’d like to go. I am so grateful.

And to you I send my very biggest cheers and prayers and wishes for a glorious day! May God keep you and hold you, and may you share the love that abounds inside of you with everyone–EVERY ONE–everywhere!

I leave you with a traditional Irish blessing…

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

May the rains fall soft upon your fields,

And, until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.



Because it’s Wednesday!

Recently our church youth group did a lovely bit of giving that I was fortunate enough to be in on. Three teams of about eight people each went out onto the streets of our local college community and offered hot chocolate to anyone they might meet. There was no agenda–just time set aside to give.

The kids tugged red wagons filled with cups and hot chocolate. I baked up a bunch of tiny pumpkin muffins, too, just for fun. They danced along in the dark, calling out to anyone who might be walking the streets, or on a skateboard, or sitting on a corner bench. Isla Vista, the resident community of UC Santa Barbara is a happening place, so people weren’t hard to come by.

Would you like some hot chocolate? Our youth would ask. Uh, no thanks, most passersby would say.

A pumpkin muffin, maybe? And then someone from our group would yell, It’s FREE!!!!!

Really? was the typical response. After all, we were talking to starving college students, and some homeless folk. Most times the offer of free would incite a complete turn around, or a skid to a stop, and our kids quickly poured, relishing in the connection, making small talk about midterms or about the weather. And then the kicker question would inevitably arrive…

WHY are you doing this?

And they’d say, Because…. it’s Wednesday!

That’s it–it’s Wednesday?


And usually the person would cock his head and say something like, that’s so cool, or yeah, it’s Wednesday, isn’t it?

No agenda. Just giving. No flyers to solicit folks to come to church, or spiritual lectures or hopes to connect again. Just hot chocolate and pumpkin muffins in the dark–one person giving to another.


Into the Fire

When my husband and I moved to Santa Barbara in 2000 to be close to relatives in Southern California we never expected to contend with annual fire danger. Earthquakes? Yes! I was raised in earthquake-ville and know the drills; we’ve got the emergency kit for when and if that day ever hits–but fires?

Kaflooey. We’ve been living through one threat after another these last several years. Right before I began this blog, in May 2009, we had the Jesusita Fire, which just about ignited our entire neighborhood. Many of our friends have lost their homes these last several years in the Tea Fire, the Zaca and Gap fires, and the Painted Cave Fire…

Last Tuesday, driving home along the foothills, I saw the familiar plume of smoke. This is after a similar blaze just the week before, which endangered another part of our foothills.  The closer I got, the more I knew that this was burning right above my son’s school in Montecito. Emails started pouring in from the emergency agencies, from the school, and helicopters began buzzing overhead, sirens sounded–forces were on the move.

Firefighters! I have come to love and respect these men and women and the work they do for us. Wouldn’t you?!!!

So… the fire bell rang, the men rushed to the foothills at noon and hiked three hours to get to the blaze. They fought that fire all afternoon, all evening, eventually hiking out in the dark, headlamps ablaze. They slept well that night, I think.

And that same night I mixed up some dough for a giant loaf of sourdough. It was an emotional and tiring day with the thought of more property at risk… But the making of the bread kept me busy and by lunch time I had a gorgeous loaf of sourdough ready for giving.

All this to say!

We made a visit to a fire station. Usually, I don’t take photos of folks I give bread to. But Greg, the firefighter on the right, was absolutely beaming with goodwill and gratitude, and stood there holding the bread for so long, and with such joy that I finally pulled out my phone and snapped a shot. He had just returned from many hours in the field and said he was heading straight to the dining hall to break open that bread.

And in my giving I had help. Can’t forget the better two parts of my sharing team…

With the ravages of Sandy still lingering, and two fires in two weeks battled here in my own hometown, I’d like to say thank you to all who are stepping forward to lend a hand, to write a check, to comfort someone in their loss. These efforts are Love.

Sending you all lots of that love, and good cheer!


I’ve been wandering through a period of friendly baking/easy sharing. Last year at about this time I was recovering from a spate of struggles and barely making it through each day–so I’ve walked into this season of Autumn 2012, into the new school year and the changes that that brings, with careful steps.

Recent Realization: Unconsciously I’ve been a bit wimpy in my bread sharing. Lots of loaves for friends and neighbors. Some for those with new babies, some for those struggling with grief, but none where I’ve had to really stretch and open myself up to the uncomfortable.

So this is a way of telling myself that it’s okay to take some risks before this trend of friendly bread goes on much longer. Last fall is over; it is a brand new season, and today is wanting to reveal itself without my manipulating it. I sense God wanting to work and I don’t want to side step the many opportunities that may come my way.

So, to recap some sharing endeavors with friendlies this last week:

  • Gave yet another loaf of bread (this one with cheese!) to neighbors that we adore and don’t get to see often enough.
  • Shared bread with my parents, who live way too far from my brothers’ bakery to have the delicious daily fresh loaf that they’re used to.
  • Made muffins and rice crispy treats for the first grade class and the 7-year-old’s marshmallow party. (Happy birthday, John Ronan!!!!)

All very friendly. And so much fun. But I sense the season for stretching is here.

Cheer me on, will you?!




One Simple Loaf of Bread

Baking a simple loaf of bread reminds me of what’s essential.

Flour, water, salt, yeast. Your hands. A song, maybe. Some fire and a way to get that bread out of the fire. It cools and you break it, and the smell…

My uncle just bought a Ferrari. I’ve never been in one, but it’d be fun to take a ride round the block.

We live in a time of peace, prosperity and excess. I travel along roads every day where people live behind twenty-foot hedges and have full-time staff who cook and clean and garden for them. I share a world, and a world view, with those who want more. I pretend I don’t, that I don’t want more, but sometimes I really do.

But then there’s the fig tree. And the figs that we pick day after day. The clafouti made by my husband. A glass of white wine in his hand. The music on. The slowness of his movements because he loves the figs, and he loves the Italian baking dish, and he especially loves us.

There are the pomegranates, too. Trees on my parent’s new property that haven’t been properly tended in years. The fruit dangling so high. Me, reaching, reaching to tug down the fruit–my mom holding my belt loop so I don’t slip into the ravine and break a leg. Twelve pomegranates, thirteen scratches–and us so proud.

And then the bread. Just one loaf, maybe two. Hours of watching and waiting, for what? For a little food?


The act of making, of creating, even just a little food, has become sacred to me. It has become prayer. The sheer doing of it. Even reluctantly, even in a bad mood, or distracted by that disease of wanting more.

Like a flower, first blooming in spring, like a smile, from someone you don’t know, just because. Like an unexpected view that’s filled with light and green and glory. Gratitude comes to mind. And so I seek to see the very essence of one simple loaf of bread, made by you, made by me,

and maybe another one to give away.